Olympics Winter

Doping a temptation in any sport

Whether it's blood doping to enhance endurance, steroids for the strength events or cold medication for a stimulating kick, anti-doping experts say the athletes of any sport can succumb to the temptation to cheat with drugs.

Even curling has seen doping violations

There are high-risk sports and low-risk sports. But when it comes to the Olympics and doping, experts say there is no such thing as a no-risk sport.

Whether it's blood doping to enhance endurance, steroids for the strength events or cold medication for the sports that benefit from a stimulant's kick, anti-doping experts say the athletes of any sport can succumb to the temptation to cheat with drugs.

And no sport is off-limits to the testers.

The infractions go from the obvious to the puzzling. "I've seen things such as ... figure skaters using diuretics so that they would not have a belly," says Christiane Ayotte, director of Canada's anti-doping lab and head of the lab that will do the Vancouver Olympics testing.

Just for the record, diuretics are banned.

There are generally fewer positive tests that come to light during Winter Olympics than during Summer Games, but the Winter Games are smaller, attracting thousands fewer athletes.

"Our experience has been that no sport is immune to the temptations of doping," says Paul Melia, president and CEO of the Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sport, which conducts the anti-doping testing of Canadian athletes.

"Different sports have different drugs of choice. Different sports have different game-day drugs and those are usually the stimulants," he says, citing ephedrine and cocaine as examples.

Doping not part of curling culture

Even curling, the Winter Olympic event that perhaps comes closest to being classified as a no-risk sport, has seen a doping violation or two in its time.

A few years ago, an American curler refused to take an out-of-competition test while he was at university. Refusing to be tested goes down on the books as a positive test.

And in 2005, Canadian curler Joe Frans tested positive at a Brier for a cocaine metabolite. He insisted he must have ingested it by accident at a party.

But in general, a sport like curling doesn't lend itself well to doping, says Dr. Margo Mountjoy, a Canadian who sits on the International Olympic Committee's medical commission.

"It's such a skill-dependent sport as opposed to a power or as opposed to an aerobic oxygen-delivery type sport," says Mountjoy, a family doctor and sports medicine specialist in Guelph, Ont.

"So those are things where you can enhance performance, but in the skill [category] you really need practice and skill and coaching and talent. So there's not much that can enhance that at all, I wouldn't think," she says, adding that doping isn't really part of the curling culture.

Cross-country skiing and biathlon are the weightlifting and cycling of the Winter Olympics, with plenty of evidence that doping is part of their cultures. In these sports, drugs and techniques that boost red blood cell production are the doping methods of choice — that means erythropoietin, known as EPO, and the various long-acting versions of the drug, or blood transfusions.

But Melia and others say doping is probably happening in other sports too.

Alpine skiing hasn't been considered a real target for doping, but that could change, says Dr. Don Catlin, founder of Anti-Doping Research Inc. and the man who ran the doping control laboratories at the Los Angeles, Atlanta and Salt Lake City Games.

"It hasn't been a high-volume tested sport," Catlin says. "But I think it is likely to be more and more. People are suspicious."

Of what? "Stimulants, EPO, any one of the drugs on the list."

And what about hockey? "Possibly stimulants, possibly steroids," Melia says.

Speedskating — both long- and short-track — are endurance sports and therefore possibly open to the same abuses as cross-country skiing and biathlon, Catlin says.

"Those are muscle sports, and so you're always concerned about endurance. Endurance drugs are the EPOs. EPO drugs cut across many different fields."   

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